The Buffalo Bills are expected to draft either a wide receiver or an offensive lineman in the first few rounds of the NFL Draft, but when general manager Brandon Beane spoke to the media at the Combine last week, he twice mentioned the possibility of adding a versatile tight end to the mix.
During a conference call with reporters previewing the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine, lead draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said, “I think the tight end group is the best I’ve seen in the last 10 years. It’s outstanding.” As the top draft prospects showed off their skills in Indianapolis, Georgia tight end Darnell Washington separated himself from the pack, and his incredible one-handed catch made him a viral star.
However, Washington, who’s 6-foot-7, and weighed in at 264 pounds, is not just a one-trick pony. While he prides himself as a blocking tight end, the Bulldogs alum ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds with a 1.57-second split, per CBS Sports, and the 20-yard shuttle in an impressive 4.08 seconds.
While speaking to the media, Washington was asked what it would be like to reunite with his former Georgia teammate, running back James Cook, whom the Bills selected in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft, and the 21-year-old sent a strong message about Buffalo as a whole.
“(It’s) through the roof,” Washington said of Cook’s potential. “You see how high his ceiling is, so as high as that and more.” As for the Bills, he knows this franchise is something elite.
“Play for that offense and with Cook again, it would be an honor,” he said. “I know that team is special. They got great caliber athletes, great guys. But just to be reunited with a Georgia player if it’s Cook or if it’s no Georgia players or whatever it may be, that’s whatever the future holds.”
Washington’s Height & Strength Makes Him a ‘One-of-a-Kind’ Prospect
While the Bills met with several tight ends from this year’s draft class, including Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer, whose projected to come off the board first, and Michigan’s Luke Schoonmaker, due to his towering height and strength level, USA Today‘s Nick Wojton called Washington a “one-of-a-kind tight end prospect,” noting his 85.7 overall grade from Pro Football Focus.
“He would be a force for any offense” and “a huge mismatch problem for NFL defenses,” Wojton wrote, the latter of which is nearly an exact match of what Beane said he was looking for in a new offensive weapon.
“You’re looking for mismatches out there you really are,” Beane said at the NFL Combine. “It’s not like you’ve got to go fill (a need) with a receiver. We’re looking for positions on offense beyond the O-line where we can add a mismatch type player. That’s where we went in and found James Cook last year and we added (Nyheim) Hines. Just guys that you can do different things with that can be a mismatch from your standard receiver like a Stefon Diggs or a Gabe Davis.”
“You’re trying to determine is the tight end just a receiver only and they know it so they’re probably going to play him like a receiver,” Beane continued. “But if you can find those guys that are not a throw away in the run game and can put their hand in the dirt and at least crack neutral. Then maybe you get the defense into base personnel. And you can throw it off of that. Or good enough that if they want to play you in nickel and you’ve got two tight ends in the game, you’re in 12 (personnel) that you can run the ball.”
The Bills Tried to Get a Tight End Duo Going Last Year
While the Bills re-signed tight end Dawson Knox to a four-year, $52 million contract last offseason, they also added O.J. Howard in the hopes of creating a true duo at the position, but it didn’t pan out.
However, Howard, the No. 19 overall pick from the 2017 NFL Draft, failed to impress throughout the preseason as backups such as Quinton Morris and Tommy Sweeney clearly outplayed him. While Sweeney or Morris have stepped in for an injured Knox, they haven’t established as a reliable tight to give the team that 1-2 punch at the position.
Democrat & Chronicle’s Sal Maiorana wrote, “The Bills need more from the tight end position beyond what Knox can bring,” and Washington, who caught 28 passes for 454 yards and two touchdowns while working primarily as a blocker last season in Georgia, would “be good” for the Bills.